Measure of a Man

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I might have liked Measure of a Man more had I never seen The Way Way Back (which was one of my favorite movies of 2013). This is similar in many ways — A dad that is mean and might be having an affair, a summer home where a young teen gets his first job, elaborate fireworks over the water, and a nerdy kid that just might get the girl.

It’s a serviceable coming of age story based on the Robert Stye book “One Fat Summer” — a much better title. The book takes place in the ‘50s. This story takes place in 1976. Now, I haven’t cared for the Richard Linklater movies that take place in the ‘70s, but at least those films looked like the time period. I don’t recall a single kid in this having a haircut or clothing that reminded me of the era. It’s only the soundtrack that really takes us there (which included the groovy tunes about the weather “Catch the Wind” by Donovan and “Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards, as well as songs by The Emotions, Neil Young, and a smokin’ version of “Free Ride” by Tavares).

Jim Loach, son of director Ken Loach, does a decent job with what he’s given. The script is just a bit weak. For example, they rely on voiceover narration for emotional heft, when they should instead just show us. Although now that I think about it, that’s the director’s decision, not the screenwriter’s.

Loach was lucky enough to have a terrific cast; the talented Donald Sutherland doing a solid job as the taskmaster boss that’s really hard on the kid, yet since he’s supposed to be a mentor/father figure, there should’ve been a scene or two more where they have more profound conversations about issues.

Luke Wilson and Judy Greer are solid in their parts as the parents. The sister is played by Liana Liberato, and I like how her character is written. She’s more concerned about her summer fling than anything else, but it’s nice that her hunky boyfriend looks out for the kid instead of picking on him. Although, the bullies in this movie are a bit too evil. There’s something about bully characters on screen that just make it unenjoyable to watch when they’re that despicable, even if we know they’ll eventually get their comeuppance. For example, in the horror film It, the bully started carving initials into a boy’s stomach. You wonder why the cops weren’t called. In this, the bullies beat a boy up, steal his pay for doing yard work, and at one point take him out onto an island and go all Deliverance on him. Now, think about how much more effective the bully was in Stand by Me, where Donald Sutherland’s son Keifer is creepy and scary, but mostly makes threats, once with a knife pulled out.

The 15-year-old boy in this is played by Blake Cooper, and it’s an understated performance that’s just right. We enjoy watching his friendship with a girl, and you’re hoping it turns into romance. It’s refreshing that they don’t sound overly hip (I’m thinking about you, Juno)…but sounded more like how 15-year-old kids would talk while hanging out at a carnival.

The ending was very satisfying, but it did make me wish the rest of the script was just as strong.

2 ½ stars out of 5.

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